We never thought rebels would attack us – minister

2013-04-04 17:21

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has conceded that the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) military intelligence failed to detect the attack in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), which left 13 soldiers dead and 27 injured.

Briefing Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence today, Mapisa-Nqakula said the attack took the soldiers by surprise.

“We never thought the Seleka rebels would attack us,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula told shocked Members of Parliament that the Seleka rebels had no intention of attacking South African soldiers and were on their way to deposed CAR president Francois Bozize’s palace.

On their way, they passed the Bangui airport, where French soldiers are based, and attacked the South Africans, who were using a former police college as their base.

“We’ve never heard of rebels with mortars and heavy weaponry,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said she did not know why the French soldiers were not attacked.

The rebels appear to have been given free access to the capital as there was no engagement between them and the 700-strong regional force deployed to the country and the CAR army.

She said some among the Seleka rebels did not speak any of the local CAR languages, an indication that the rebels were backed by foreign fighters.

About 400 SANDF members were deployed in the CAR in January to protect 26 South African trainers and equipment including property and vehicles after the situation deteriorated late last year.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the soldiers’ mission was to assist CAR with post-conflict recovery.

The three-hour chaotic meeting later degenerated into a mudslinging match, with Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier accusing government of misleading the nation about the deployment.

An angry Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla demanded that Maynier apologise for insulting government.

Maynier refused, with ANC deputy chief whip Mmamoloko Kubayi accusing him of political point scoring when people had lost their lives.

Freedom Front Plus Pieter Groenewald walked out of the meeting, which the committee’s chairperson Jerome-Joseph Maake said wasted a lot of time on points of order.

Of the 27 injured soldiers, 18 have been discharged from hospital while one is still in a critical condition.

Mapisa-Nqakula denied that the Seleka rebels had seized some of the SANDF’s vehicles, saying the country had previously donated redundant equipment to the CAR.

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